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Greg Bardsley

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Nothing says ‘Merry Christmas’ like a desert fatty with a sawed-off

The purveyors of degenerate literature over at Thuglit are busting quite a groove lately. Every month, the stories coming out of this crime zine seem to get better and better — i.e., sicker, nastier, creepier and more compelling.

thuglit22v2.jpgIn December, the Thugism is in top form, with bitter little morsels of crime fiction by everyone from established novelists to relative newcomers. Two of my favorites were “News About Yourself” (PDF) by novelist Scott Wolven and “Deep Cover” (PDF) by short-story writer Brian Haycock. Both stories had a great sense of place, some unpredictable characters and some pretty unexpected conclusions. Wolven’s piece gave me a good case of the creeps, and Haycock’s story gave me an instant aversion to desert-livin’ fatties with sawed-off shotguns (I know; I’m weird).

In other words, there’s some good Christmas readin’ over at Thuglit. Stuff to snuggle up to .. next to the tree … with a hot mug of cocoa.

So dope

When you’re 40, you just don’t have the time anymore.

You don’t have time for phonies, snobs and career sharks. Conversations about someone’s endless pursuit of the latest luxury item not only prove exceptionally boring, but feel empty. The clock of mortality, after all, is ticking, and I’d rather not waste my time.

Last week, it was in this spirit that I stopped reading a recently released crime novel. Eighty pages into it, I found it to be poorly written with a boring story and unconvincing set of characters. In a word … Blah. The fact that others who are passionate about writing have enjoyed this book reminded me of just how subjective this whole business is. I kept telling myself, An editor bought this book. What did he see that I don’t?

Regardless, I’m 40. And I didn’t have the time.

dopepb3.jpgSo I moved on and picked up a sublime, tightly crafted slice of noir that my boss Terry had given me — “Dope,” by Sara Gran. “Dope” follows a recovered drug addict in 1950s New York City as she navigates through a world of fiends, whores, con men and crooked cops in her search for a missing Barnard coed. Between the great characters, the enveloping sense of place and time, the tight and graceful prose and a phenomenal series of plot twists, I was captured. I devoured the book in no time, and loved every page.

Time well spent for this 40-year-old.

They Grow Up So Fast

Not long ago, I blogged about a short story I’d written — a “twisted little baby” that I was sending into to the harsh, cruel world of fiction-journal submissions.

Today, I am announcing that the story has found a home: the resurrected Plots with Guns magazine run by novelist and English professor Anthony Neil Smith. The story will appear in early 2008.

For five years, Plots with Guns ran some of the best crime fiction around. Everyone from established novelists to unknown writers to future stars contributed, and the ‘zine shined. But as Smith and cohort Victor Gischler began to publish their own novels, it was too hard to “balance the magazine with other concerns,” as Smith explained. Now, three years later, Smith feels he can balance those concerns a lot better, and he’s inspired.

Plots with Guns does feel like the perfect place for my story, “Upper Deck.” If you’ve read my other stories, you already know they don’t exactly leave you with visions of fluffy bunnies hopping through sun-splashed fields of daisies. I write about low-functioning characters doing low-functioning things, and with “Upper Deck,” the unacceptable behavior enters a new strata of psychosis. So I knew the story would need an understanding guardian, someone who sees the beauty in depraved activities.

Enter Smith.

In Smith’s acceptance note, the author of some wonderfully sick crime fiction called my story “NASTY and wonderful,” and he was waiting for my wretched little one with open arms. I sat back and beamed. Oh yes, my sick little baby had found its home, and Daddy couldn’t have been more proud.

Epiphanies had over plates of “high-end Peruvian”

I caught up with an old newspaper buddy last night.

I hadn’t seen Gordon in more than seven years. Since our days as starving writers at the alternative weekly, Metro, our lives had gone in different directions. Gordon moved on to another urban weekly and then to the university setting, where he’s been a lecturer and media advisor the past 11 years; after Metro, I did two years at a daily before getting out of the business.

Last night we met up at Piqueo’s, a fantastic “high-end Peruvian restaurant,” as Gordon rightly calls it. Over plates of polito and pastelito de choclo and a pitcher of sangria, we dove into a passionate discussion of novel writing — specifically, how it’s almost impossible not to pour your heart and soul into a first draft, to write tens of thousands of words in a drunken literary lust, only to realize much later that they just don’t serve your novel.

It got me to thinking. Are these wrong turns, as painful and time-consuming as they are, nearly impossible to avoid? When it comes to a process as consuming and visibility-impairing as writing a novel, are these wrong turns truly something to bemoan? I’m starting to think they’re crucial parts of the process. Maybe, in order to get to something that works — to find our gems amidst our own muck — we must understand that we’re going to write crap along the way.

As luck would have it, all of this came to a head today when I shared the “first draft” of my latest reality-based video with my director here at Sun. She immediately identified one segment that did not serve my story and another that needed more development. I shook my head and told her I should have seen this earlier.

Her response? “No, this is part of the process.”

I think I agree.

“Sex, Thugs and Rock-n-Roll” …. (and Me)

Last week I received the kind of email just about every writer wants to get. I was told my fiction will be printed in book form and sold in stores across the land. Specifically, Todd Robinson and Kensington Books will be including my story, “Big Load of Trouble,” in Thuglit’s second-annual “best-of” anthology, “Sex, Thugs and Rock-n-Roll.”

hardcorehardboiledcover.jpgThis is a first for me, and I’m tickled. It doesn’t really matter that I’ll be paid a very modest sum, nor does it matter that the book won’t hit the shelves until spring of 2009 (yes, 2009). I just like the idea of my story being printed, bound and ultimately coming to rest on some stranger’s nightstand. I also keep imagining my little tale of horny gerbils, snooty intellectuals, paroled Raiders fans and tainted kiddie pools sitting directly below a bookstore sound system trumpeting classical music (the irony!).

But what I’m really excited about is the list of writers Thuglit has lined up for its anthologies. The first edition, “Hardcore Hardboiled,” due out this spring, will include fiction from a virtual who’s who of crime novelists — Ken Bruen, Victor Gischler, Duane Swierczynski, Sean Chercover and Charlie Stella, among others. That’s one badass crew, and I can’t wait to get my hands on the first edition (I’ll be in the second edition).

The funny thing is, half of “Big Load” came from the “cut file” of my novel. Don’t get me wrong, cutting it out of my novel was the right thing to do (it got in the way of the story). And yet I keep laughing at the fact that a slice of this problematic storyline, despised by literary agents and declared “offensive” by Stegner Fellows (again, for valid reasons in the context of my novel), is somehow getting anthologized in book form. Back then, who woulda thunk?

Certainly not me.

My twisted little ‘baby’

My twisted little baby. How could have I guessed that something so sick as you could spring from the recesses of my mind? And how could have I guessed that, in some warped way, you would please and amuse others? My twisted little baby, yet another lovechild from the union of sick humor and crime fiction — at first just an inspiration, at first just an idea for exploring a fascinating, though little-known, activity. My sweet child taking a life of its own, developing into its full, grotesque, short-story form. My twisted little baby, you are the reason I write fiction. Weeks after your creation, I still laugh when I think of you, still puff my chest with pride for having sprung you.

My twisted little baby, I am glad you are mine. But now it’s time to fly, little one. Fly and spread your wings.

Charlie Huston, you badass

I never knew Charlie Huston.

When we were growing up in adjacent East Bay suburbs, I didn’t know him. And when we were both at Chico State, where Charlie used to work with one of my best friends and hang out with one of my newspaper buddies, I still had no idea the guy existed. Even during my destructive run as a local theatre critic for the daily newspaper, I still didn’t know the aspiring actor when I crapped on one of his plays — our mutual friend, who told me 16 years later that Charlie had been in that play, reminds me of how I compared the production to those old Calvin Klein commercials where gorgeous men chanted Greek philosophy into the air. Subsequently referred to amongst artists and actors as “the infamous ‘Obsession’ ad review,” according to our mutual friend (now a successful editor and author), the review apparently popped some vessels in the Theater Department. (Sorry, Charlie. I was scared, confused and on deadline … and they never should’ve made me a critic)

Regardless, I didn’t know anything about the man. Then, in 2005, I read a blurb in the Chico alumni magazine about a guy who’d attended when I had, and who had (unlike me) published his first novel, “Caught Stealing” with Random House. I bought the book immediately; that wasn’t surprising. What was surprising was how quick I tore through the thing — staying up through the night to finish it even though I was the fatigued, sleep-deprived father of two “spirited” boys (1 and 4 at the time) and owner of a pretty consuming job. I loved “Caught Stealing,” and so did a lot of other people, including one dude you may have heard of — Stephen King, who recently called Charlie “one of the most remarkable prose stylists to emerge from the noir tradition in this century.”

Long story short, the unpublished novelist approaches the published novelist, who graciously grants the unpublished novelist invaluable manuscript feedback, publishing advice and email friendship. And the unpublished novelist is thinking, Why couldn’t have I met this guy in Chico? More than a year later, unpublished novelist learns from the mutual friend that the published novelist had been an actor in that “Calvin Klein” play, “The Trial of Socrates,” and the unpublished novelist feels his lunch surging at the base of his throat.

shotgun_final_with_king_pop.jpgAnd so now, all these years later, I have an opportunity for redemption. I have a chance to review another one of Charlie’s creative efforts — his new novel, “The Shotgun Rule,” which tells the story of four teens growing up in an East Bay suburb in ’83. And it is my extreme pleasure to report that Charlie, in my view, has penned his most compelling, heartfelt, authentic and engrossing novel yet. Of course, it doesn’t hurt when the book you’re reading captures the average teen-age boy’s life in the Tri-Valley area in ’83, and you were just such a person in ’83. Of course, it doesn’t hurt when the author refers to friends with Mohawks, music hierarchies involving the Dead Kennedy’s, AC Transit/BART trips to the city, eerily quiet neighborhoods in a commuter town and even guards from Amador Valley High (hey, I was a third-string guard on Amador’s frosh team, but I swear I didn’t deal drugs at a Livermore dive bar).

In the end, you realize “The Shotgun Rule” is far more than a page-turner (though, it could stand alone as that). This time around, with this Huston book, there’s so much more. You’re reminded that most fucked-up assholes in school were fucked-up assholes for a reason — and that reason usually had to do with their parents. That most kids with attitude problems were covering pain — and that pain usually came from their homes. That most people who encounter truly horrific violence must deal with its side effects for years. That what kids need most of all is help and support.

“The Shotgun Rule” has spent two weeks on The Los Angeles Times Bestseller List. How it can’t also soon make it to the San Francisco Chronicle’s Bestsellers list is beyond me — after all, the story is set in Livermore, and is so relevant to growing up in the East Bay. Regardless, I’d bet some serious cash that this won’t be the last Charlie Huston book you’ll see on a bestseller list.

Congrats, Charlie. You’re a good guy and one badass writer.

It’s that literary ‘juice’

Ah, to be back in the groove.

To be back in that fiction-writing groove. To have pushed and shoved and wiggled out of the initial, debilitating phase that comes with starting a novel. To hit the open road with a clear sight of where you want to take this story, what kind of people will play in it and what kind of problems they’ll face.

This is where I am, and it feels great.

Starting a new novel is a little daunting, if you stop and think about it. And getting to the point in which you’re cranking and having fun and feeling excited about what can happen to your characters is both a rush and relief. It also doesn’t hurt when one of your best friends just got a piece placed in a great literary journal, another buddy is excited about a short he’s writing, and you yourself are reading an engrossing new book by a great author who grew up just a BMX ride away.

I think outside events like these can act as a kind of “literary juice” — a motivational cocktail that makes me wanna lay down some rubber on my own pages regardless of the roadblocks.

Here’s hoping the juice lasts.

“She Don’t Like Hecklers”

Gina Dean don’t like hecklers. If you don’t believe me, you can read it for yourself on a pretty damn cool crime ‘zine called Pulp Pusher.

The Pusher today published my short story, “She Don’t Like Hecklers,” which joins recent pieces from novelists Nick Stone, Dave Zeltserman, Ray Banks and Tony Black. As one article about the Pusher notes, pulp-fiction badasses Ken Bruen, Charles Ardai, Allan Guthrie, Todd Robinson and Duane Swierczynski also have joined in for a piece of the action. With a crew like this, I have to admit it feels good to be a fly on the wall.

The Pusher

Pulp Pusher is one of those rare fiction venues that actually has fun, and it never turns it’s nose up on you. Visit its submission guidelines, for instance, and it wisecracks, “If The Pusher gets an odd chapter from your novel in progress, he breaks your knuckles. Oh, and The Pusher finds your story anywhere else, he breaks your sister’s knuckles.”

Pusher, I promise, my story ain’t anywhere esle. I swear.

“She Don’t Like Hecklers” is here, and it is dedicated to anyone who’s had an asshole sling suggestive comments at her from the safety of his muscle car. That said, if you find tales involving peyote abuse and “crocodilian death rolls” to be low-brow or offensive, you may wanna pass on this one.

Let me know what you think.

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